Experimenting with OKRs – First Quarter Mayhem!

Happy Melly is an experiment in pushing the boundaries to create happier workplaces. Our team is an experiment in remote working and collaborative management. We’ve been together for a whole quarter now and every day we’re learning new ways of improving our productivity and setting and achieving goals.

Happy Melly team

Despite the fact we rarely get to meet in person (although we’re about to meet in Budapest for the annual Management 3.0 Facilitator meet-up in Budapest), we still have to get our goals and objectives aligned with the overall team master plan.

When our Happy Melly team got together in January, we started experimenting with OKRs. What are OKRs? The acronym is short for Objectives and Key Results, an agile management method – commonly associated with Google, for setting team objectives and goals. Jurgen Appelo wrote about the OKRs practice, that’s the article to read.

We set our OKRs for the first quarter with some trepidation. We were being given the autonomy to set our own objectives and were in charge of developing the key results we wanted to come away with.

Our team come from different work backgrounds, although most of us are freelancers or business owners in our own right. We were used to setting traditional business objectives and financial goals, except OKRs have a very strict pattern to work to and it takes some getting used to. Your key results must always be qualitative and measurable, rather than actionable tasks.

We were advised to be ambitious with our OKRs and we all went a bit crazy that first quarter. This is what happened:

Defining ‘Key Results’

Key results for OKRsThe first matter of contention was actually defining a ‘measurable’ key result. We all had an idea about what we wanted to achieve and discussed in various meetings how to establish this as an OKR. Yet most of us still translated our key results into ‘actionable tasks’, rather than key measurable results.

To make OKRs work, you must be able to evaluate your Key Result, which can only be done, if it’s measurable.

Example:

  • Objective: Redefine the Happy Melly mission statement
  • Key Result: Redevelop the website to make the HM message more understandable

No measurable key result here. And this is probably the biggest hurdle, as a team, we have to conquer. Even as we set our OKRS for the second quarter, we struggled to set ‘measurable’ results, over actions. 

It’s not a question of misunderstanding the objective. It’s more a question of turning a typical target structure on its head. It feels more natural to list the actions you are going to undertake to achieve an objective. But with OKRs, the actions are for you to get on with, they don’t need to be visible. The only thing that matters is your ‘Objective’ and how you measure your success in achieving that objective.

This quarter, several of the team, including myself, have decided to set our OKRs around the quarterly Master Plan set by Jurgen Appelo, which is all about increasing membership of Happy Melly.

As the Content Manager for Happy Melly, I can do this in various ways:

  • Create compelling content, which in turn entices people, businesses and entrepreneurs to find out more about what we do
  • Work with my colleagues Jennifer and Hannu on the redevelopment of HappyMelly.com to create a better channel for our current funders
  • Develop new channels of communication for Happy Melly funders and supporters

Are these quantifiable key results? No they’re not. Of course, I have to keep in mind how I am going to contribute to the Objective of ‘Increasing Membership of Happy Melly’, but the only key result that matters, is the increment of membership this quarter.

A better way to present my OKRs would be:

Master Plan Objective: More Members for Happy Melly
My personal actions (don’t need to be in my OKRs): Improve sales pitch and CTAs with new website design and content. Expand promotional opportunities for Funders via HM and communicate Funder opportunities to contacts.

Objective 1: 15 Happy Melly Funders

Key result: 8 new Funder leads

Objective 2: 250 Happy Melly Supporters (From Q1 of 8)

Key result: 242 new Supporter leads

Each of us, will have an individual actionable task list to make this happen, but it doesn’t become part of our OKRs. Our team will see our progress via our Trello Boards and our regular iDoneThis updates.

Less is more

Objectives and key resultsIn quarter one we were all young, eager and impressionable… OK, we were eager and impressionable. In quarter two, we are as eager, just a little wiser.

My first OKR list was endless. I had 13 Objectives and Key Results marked down. And most of our team had a similar quantity. Bear in mind that most of us commit 40-60% of our time to Happy Melly, this was a pretty tall order.

This quarter we have made a pact to keep our list down to a maximum of three OKRs, which should each foster the objectives of the Master Plan.

Having less, but clearer goals, linked to a master objective, makes the whole exercise less complicated and easier to visualise the final results.

Knowing your role helps!

Unless you have a clear vision of your role within a company, it’s pretty damn impossible to set OKRs. The first quarter was all about learning our role in the team. I put a lot of effort into producing 13 OKRs, which in the end, had very little to do with the role I ended up playing.

And thus I came out of quarter one having achieved very few of my key results. I wasn’t alone. Not a single team member achieved outright success with their OKRs. In fact, Google says the practice of OKRs is not about achieving 100% of your goals. If you do, you’ve likely set yourself very easy objectives.

Remember. This is an experiment. Experiments can lead to success or to failure, but they always help us learn better practices and how to improve for the next time.

It takes some time to get used to setting OKRs. This second quarter setting has been nearly as difficult as the first quarter, but I learnt three things:

  1. Measurable, not actionable
  2. Less is more
  3. Know your role

I’ll report back on our successes, failures and what we learnt, at the end of quarter two.

Image credits @FlickR/Creative Commons:

On target by Hans Splinter

Focus by Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

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Comments

  1. Thanks Louise, very interesting post! I struggle with the same challenges 🙂

    Comment by Pia-Maria Thorén on July 7, 2015 at 9:20 PM

  2. I’m also running my own OKR experiment… I also combined it with a Kanban system, so its my OKR-Kanban combo experiment. So far, its going well! I’m way more focused and I eliminated a few tasks as they didnt relate to the OKR’s so I declined a few client opportunities as its not my focus now. But I got to pass those to some friends, who perhaps in the future will need to pass something my way. It felt great to be able to share and release. I felt a sense of collaboration and freeing up my time to focus. Needless to say I’m feeling great!

    Comment by Vanessa on August 2, 2015 at 10:17 PM

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